How do we talk about God’s judgment in the New Testament and church eras?
We’re used to seeing God’s judgment in the Old Testament. He was no discriminator of persons, either. He visited judgment upon unbelievers like those in Sodom and Gomorrah. But he also judged the people of Israel in the wilderness many times.
Some people say that God’s policies have changed in the New Testament. He is not as quick to judge believers in Jesus. The era of grace makes it possible for God to treat us as his children. There is an eschatological judgment of wrath being stored up for unbelievers. But other people say there is no judgment for believers.
But we do see judgment on some believers in the New Testament. I will point out several examples in another question. I do have a problem with calling it judgment, though. Paul clearly states that we are God’s children and not objects of wrath as we were in our former lives (Ephesians 2:3-6).
There is at least one Scripture (and there are more) about judgment of believers in the New Testament. Paul states that “judgment must begin with the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17). This is a time where the world is watching us closely. Christians must not only be Christian in name but in action and word.
This judgment is an internal audit of each of us to make sure that we live what we profess. And if we suffer for the name of Christ, let us bear it with God’s grace and his strength given to us. Let us even be joyful in the opportunity to suffer for our Lord. Paul points to mercy instead of judgment.
I am much more comfortable with the term “discipline.” Even children are open to discipline by parents. Our Father in heaven sometimes must use discipline to keep us on the path of conforming to and serving Christ.
Once we get into the area of judgment, I would question if the believer is still following Christ and saved. The examples of God’s judgment on believers shows that their hearts are nowhere near where they should be. We will see examples in the next couple of questions, first from the Corinthians partaking in the Lord’s Supper and then I will point out others throughout the New Testament.
The best way to describe God’s judgment in the New Testament and the church eras is to say that God disciplines each of us when we get into the weeds instead of walking the path of Christ. If we continue in disobedience, that discipline turns into punishment.
And if we still do not turn back to him, God has no choice but to move to the next step of judgment. If we still do not listen, obstinate in our disobedience, I then begin to question if we have not lost our relationship with Christ. And if that is so, then we are freely open to his wrath.
What are those lines? Where do we go from discipline to wrath? This is a great question in and of itself. God is the only one who can no and judge the heart of a person. And I believe the lines are very personal. Only God can judge where we are on a path that leads to the loss of relationship with him.
But I firmly caution anyone wondering about these lines that it is better to come closer to God than to live on the edge. After all, if you’re on the edge long enough, you may not realize at what point you fell off. Every act God commits toward us is in an effort to draw us closer to him, not push us away. His heart is to dwell with us in holiness.